Nobody would argue with the fact that social movements are the evident social phenomenon which produces a significant impact on various aspects of human life. In fact, social movements are a comprising element of contemporary society, as they not only amend various aspects of social life but also determine specific discourses within the society. In such a way, social movements can be recognized as a way of changing social trends throughout mass action. This feature is hard to deny, so that social movements arise in any country to various extent. One of such significant social movements is Occupy Wall Street which included thousands of people participating in the wave of protests against changes in tax law and overall persistence of capitalism and social inequality. The movement, however, included not only positive sides. Thus, the following paper focuses on a discussion of Occupy Wall Street as an example of social movement in regards to its empirical and theoretical issues.
The following study establishes a theoretical framework in order to define the term of social movement and identify the basic theoretical approaches to depiction of social movements. By the same token, the study conducts a literature review for provision of the insight of the movement’s participants. Since the literature review presents insight knowledge, these findings should be objectively discussed, which is why the paper describes Occupy Wall Street from strictly objective position. Also, the study discusses relation of the social movement to political agenda and determines the main driving forces of the Occupy Wall Street movement. These aspects are discussed with appliance of theories initially outlined within the paper, so that the findings suggested by the study are theoretically relevant. As the thesis, structure, and the key terms of the paper have been introduced, it is necessary to proceed to the next section.
In order to start the discussion, it is necessary to be explicit about what is meant by the term of social movement. It is becoming increasingly apparent that social movement is a particular pattern of mass behavior, so that it can be defined as historically and spatially located expressions of socially constructed responses to prevailing political and economic dynamics. Social movements use non-institutional methods for addressing specific political or civil issues, which is why social movement is recognized as a common attempt to initiate social change. These characteristics are certainly relevant, so that their applicability to the further discussion is well-justified. It is also informative to note that social movements can form social movement and organizations as well as social movement communities. At this point, semi-institutionalization of social movements can be observed even though activity of such formations is largely determined by temporary activities rather than pre-planned sequence of initiatives.
Social Movement Theories
Beyond a doubt, various theories regarding the phenomenon of social movements are present. Still, it is fair to linger upon the most basic theoretical foundations to contextualize the subsequent discussion. The first theory is collective behavior theory which includes Chicago approach and structural-functional form. Chicago school suggests that social movements emerge owing to temporary social instability, as usual behaviors of masses are disrupted. Consequently, masses act in a similar way to adjust to the situation throughout adapting new behaviors. The second approach assumes that social movements arise because of a constant violation of rights or deprivation, so that society reacts on these factors with influencing specific agenda throughout protests or any other activities to change structural or functional patterns of the government/community. At any rate, collective behavior theory is based on the statement that social movements emerge as a reaction to a particular phenomenon within the society.
Besides these major points, the mass society approach is also persistent among theoreticians. This approach takes a philosophic view on the phenomenon of social movements, so that the central assumption is that all social movements emerge because independently alerted individuals see loss of specific values and thus meanings of social components. Society is closely attached to material and moral values, which is why their violation breaks the connection. As a result, masses alerted in their turn by specific individuals resist against particular loss of social meaning. The other approach is relative deprivation theory. This theory suggests that social movements occur owing to the fact that society progresses, and its current layout is no longer actual. Social movements take a responsibility to shift the society towards a higher level of social excellence in that regard because the progress of society means aspiration for achievement of better living standards.
On the contrary, resource mobilization theory describes social movements as a way of obtaining new resources available within the society. Provided that a certain entity obtains moral, material, or just human resources, it can be used to influence a social change throughout the movement. Therefore, social movements are depicted as not only moral and psychological issues but also as a politically motivated action, as long as availability of various resources may determine different purposes of social movements. That is why, social movements are often recognized as a way of mobilization of social resources for addressing political, business, or any other purposes that maximize social well-being of the entity. Hence, social movement can easily become a servant of a specific political agenda. This aspect can be traced in any social movement even though this movement did not intend to render any political influence with itself.
A large volume of literature has been published on the subject of the Occupy Wall Street social movement, which is why it is essential to provide the insight on this issue. As Sarah van Gelder describes, successful movements are based on reaching internal and external consensus. Even the most radical representatives of the movement agreed to cooperate under a consolidated framework, so credibility of such concept was apparent. Specific consensus groups were initiated to coordinate actions of the movement and establish communication with officials. This aspect enabled the movement preserve its standpoint in socio-political terms, so that protests were not violent, even though many protesters suffered from police violence and subsequent arrests. At any rate, van Gelder suggests that consensus democracy is original feature of the United States, as such form of democracy is guided with ethical principles rather than political agenda. Thus, the consensus process always makes a positive impact on any social movement.
In contrast, this book suggests that Occupy Wall Street should have obtained a different form of organization. The establishment of independent Assembly Council is an evident achievement of Occupy Wall Street, but such organizational form is hardly applicable to movements aimed at making a vertical change. Van Gelder does not deny significance and success of Assembly Council, but predicts that another form of movement would have achieved much better and relevant results. Protests and resentments still varied within Occupy Wall Street, and a single solution to this problem was impossible. The movement should have developed a profound approach to the issues that concern Occupy Wall Street. That would have rendered protesters a more confident position and better awareness of political decisions made by the government. The implementation of consensus groups, however, leveraged the movement’s potential to achieve its goals, so that the outcomes of the action can be regarded as successful.
A similar view is promoted by Betsy Fain, who admits that success of Occupy Wall Street was mainly based on a well-organized work. Again, the book places the emphasis on a significance of consensus within the movement, which is why allocation of tasks was reasonable. It is certainly true, once multiple demands were outlined with the movement. Consensus groups helped to structure the movement. Fain admits that Occupy Wall Street was not only political but mainly social phenomenon, as such large masses of people managed to coordinate their actions within a short period. As a consequence, a wide range of speculations emerged in that regard, but an evident collective behavior can be observed. Hence, Occupy Wall Street was a natural reaction to the political, social, and economic situation in the United States, and possibility of preplanned political attack was obviously low.
Fain also admits that Occupy Wall Street made a significant impact on democracy promotion and social movements across the whole world. It is certainly true, once consensus model and assembly form were fast adopted in other countries. The book underlines a foundational role of consensus groups in regards to this aspect because their participation caused the greatest changes in the movement. That is why it is fair to admit that alerted individuals are the central determinants and leaders of arising social movements. A similar approach was taken by many European and even Middle East countries. On a separate note, the provided insight on Occupy Wall Street is based on opinions of the movement participants, so that this perspective can be biased due to lack of objectivity. Therefore, discussion of the findings outlined with literature review is obviously needed in order to display Occupy Wall Street in objective terms.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that Occupy Wall Street was initiated just at the right time. As a result, the movement was well-formed, since social resentment reached a sufficient level. In spite of the initial ambiguity in objectives, demands, and pattern of external politics, the movement managed to arrange its forces. Therefore, it is worth saying that collective behavior theory is quite applicable. First of all, a large entity of citizens felt that socio-economy situation is not stable and satisfactory any longer. Second, a change of behaviors respectively resulted in protests and mass actions within the New York City. Third, Occupy Wall Street has created social movement community recognized as 99%’s and social movement organization such as Assembly Council. Finally, Occupy Wall Street was a traditional phenomenon of collective behavior based on mass society approach. This evidence is hardly debatable, which is why assumptions concerning politically supported arrangement of the movement are almost irrelevant.
Despite the fact that Occupy Wall Street was initially a non-violent protest, many participants were injured by police. Moreover, many of protesters were arrested and accused of vandalism, public order disturbance, robbery, and even rapes. Consequently, the government found the protest to be politically dangerous and hence backed with some political force. Nonetheless, distinct political representatives of the movement did not experience any specific pressure from the government. It is reasonable to refer to resource mobilization theory. The literature review denies any initial involvement of politics in the movement. In fact, a wave of resentment was caused by recent decisions of the President Obama in relation to leverage of taxes for business and average citizens. Thus, a certain political agenda was still present, as challenging of the president’s decisions had a political implication in many regards. This evidence is hard to deny, since political and social resources were mobilized for placing pressure on the government.
However, resource mobilization theory can describe Occupy Wall Street in a negative connotation. Social and political forces were mobilized for rendering better economic resources via amendment to tax laws. As a matter of fact, promotion of such changes would negatively reflect on the economics of the United States. Taxes are the main source of budgeting governmentally-based services, agencies, and institutions. Therefore, increase of taxes for large business would mean impossibility of full tax coverage by corporations and higher tax evasion. Subsequently, average citizens would be expected to pay more taxes for recovering budget for public services and institutions. Such outcomes were mainly prevented by consensus groups, so their significance in Occupy Wall Street is objectively well-justified. Still, mobilization of resources for improvement of social conditions does not necessarily mean a positive result.
In addition, consensus groups managed to prevent adverse effects on healthcare services. It is becoming abundantly clear that absence of capability to pay taxes by corporations would require better funding from public sector. Health care programs aimed at citizens, who are incapable of affording them, would considerably suffer, since their funding would be also disrupted. Occupy Wall Street was obviously a positive social movement, but economic implications were extremely strong, so that establishment of institutionalized form of protest contributed into a more soft change. It is informative to note that social progress does not necessarily mean inspiration for the masses for better living conditions in a broad sense of social movements scoping. The achievement of specific goals may result in loss of meaning for the other social aspect. That is why generic nature of social movements is always explicit, and the case of Occupy Wall Street clearly depicts this evidence. Beyond a doubt, the movement advanced in reconsideration of tax policies, but a large presence of consent-based decision-making managed to regulate the process within reasonable borders.
All in all, the paper has provided an account of social movements taking into consideration the Occupy Wall Street movement. The paper has established a meaningful theoretical framework to define the term of social movement and describe basic theories that describe social movements as a social phenomenon. Subsequently, the study has conducted a literature review and identified that the majority of participants claim that they are satisfied with outcomes of Occupy Wall Street. Still, the paper has also discussed this social movement from an objective perspective and even outlined distinct economic and political insight on the social movement. Occupy Wall Street is a standard representation of social movement based on collective behavior and mobilization of resources, so that its motives, actions, and outcomes should be reviewed in that regard only.
It is appropriate to make a general comment on the fact that Occupy Wall Street was a result of multiple social and political processes, so that this social movement could be potentially used by independent political forces even though the movement was not aware of that. Therefore, it is fair to admit that any social movement can easily become a hidden political instrument. Resource mobilization theory clearly proves it, once human, economic, and even cultural resources can be mobilized for achievement of a particular goal. Thus, the same could happen in relation to politics. Occupy Wall Street clearly demonstrates such a possibility, but collective behavior of participants was surprisingly well-coordinated throughout consensus system. This approach has been distinguished as a central driving force of the entire social movement and as the main determinant of the protest’s scope. Henceforth, a human agreement based on standard ethical values preserved Occupy Wall Street from switching to politically-backed action.